This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Acharei-Kedoshim (5764)
The second portion of this week's double section begins with three statements: 1) Be Holy because I (G-d) am Holy 2) Fear your mother and father 3) Keep my Sabbath. (19:2,3)
At first it doesn't seem that there is any connection between them: The first, “Be Holy etc.” is a general statement and the last two; honoring your parents and Shabbat, are apparently unrelated commandments.
But the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that these three explain the secret of Jewish identity and survival:
To understand this here is a story.
While other countries of Europe Jewry enjoyed occasional periods of respite from anti-Semitism, in Russia it was never so.
The Russian Jews never knew a day that was free from some sort of oppression, evil government decree, expulsion or cruelty. Jews were forbidden to hold various jobs, live in certain areas, visit certain towns, make ‘too much’ money or even practice their own religion. And just as they began to adjust to one decree another would be added or a pogrom would 'spontaneously' break loose.
Near the turn of the 19th century a new enemy joined the ranks; the 'Maskilim' (enlightened). These assimilated, intellectualist Jews began by setting their sights on convincing Jewish youth to leave the ‘confines’ of Torah observance and become 'free' 'normal' people.
But eventually they declared outright war on G-d. And that is where our story begins.
It was in the beginning of the nineteen hundreds in Russia. A large group of several hundred leading 'maskilim' planned a scheme to convince the Czar's minister of education to close all Jewish schools and forbid the learning of Kabala in all synagogues.
These were clever, devoted people with many powerful friends and connections and it wasn't long before the Minster agreed to make a special hearing to consider their proposition.
Orthodox Judaism was caught off guard. They had virtually no lobbying power or political representatives. So the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Ber (nicknamed the ReShaB), took things into his own hands and sent his only son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, to Petersburg, where all the high officials were, see what could be done.
But upon arriving there he realized that it was far worse than he could have imagined. After almost a week of trying he found himself up against a brick wall; he had accomplished nothing. Every one of the officials he managed to see and even their secretaries openly expressed their hatred for the religious Jews.
With no other choice he returned to Lubavitch to tell his father that he had failed. The only thing that could help now was prayer. They needed a miracle.
But when he entered his father’s room and gave him the bad news his father didn't reply. He was preparing for the Morning Prayer checking the strands (Tzitzis) on his Prayer Shawl (Talit) that hung folded over his shoulder and just looked up at his son without saying a word.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak related in great detail exactly where he went in Petersburg, what he did, with whom he had met, how they rejected him, how he continued trying and how he met with disappointment after disappointment until he had exhausted all his plans and had no choice but to return home.
When he finished speaking his father quietly told him a story.
"Once, the Alter Rebbe (first leader of Chabad; Rabbi Shneur Zalman some hundred years earlier) sent his son the Mittler Rebbe (lit. the middle Rebbe) to the government offices in Petersburg to change a certain evil decree. He traveled there and did his best but despite his great talents and determination he failed. And with no alternative he returned to his father.
"When he entered the house his father was standing in the middle of the room with his Tallit on his shoulder checking the Tzitzit before he began the Morning Prayer and he answered:
"'Do you see? This is a Tallit. A Tallit represents the Makif and the Makif blinds the eyes of the Chitzonim'.
[This is Kabalistic terminology; the commandment of the Tallit represents and connects to a high, 'surrounding', aspect of G-d (Makif) against which no evil (Chitzonim) can succeed].
"When The Mittler Rebbe heard this he took several of the strings of his father's Tallit and kissed them, then returned to Petersburg and succeeded."
Needless to say when Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak heard this story he 'got the hint'; He too grabbed a few strands of his father's Talit, kissed them and ran out the door to the train station.
A few hours later he was on the next train to Petersburg and the next day he was again roaming the streets of that city.
Suddenly he got a wild idea. The head of the Maskilim was a devilishly clever man by the name of Karps who had even succeeded in getting himself appointed as the 'Rabbi' in the assimilated city of Oddessa. He was the one that had written all the papers that would be used to convince the officials and ministers and he happened be staying in a hotel in Petersburg until the hearing.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak had no plan but he had a feeling…. the hearing would be in two days, G-d would help!
He went to Karp’s hotel room, straightened his suit, and knocked at his door. Karps opened up, immediately recognized him as the son of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and graciously invited him in….
They sat and chatted for a few minutes until the conversation got around to the plans of the 'Maskilim'.
Karps did not deny a thing. Exactly the opposite; he was so sure of himself and his cause that he began to brag and boast of how he and his friends had an air-tight case. They were about to wipe out Judaism with super logic. They would free all the Jews from superstition and eventually even the religious Jews, even the Rabbis, would thank him etc. He then produced a neatly bound portfolio of some thirty finely handwritten pages, all the paperwork he had prepared specially for the hearing, and declared:
"This is the beginning of the end of archaic religion!!"
Rabbi Yosef Yizchak asked if he could see it for a moment and Karps, declaring brazenly that he would certainly agree with all that was written there; the fate of Judaism was sealed, all the officials were on his side etc. etc. agreed readily!
The Rabbi took the papers walked to a corner of the room as though he wanted to examine them closely, and proceeded to quickly and efficiently rip the whole business into shreds!
Karps let out a scream, but by the time he realized what was happening and ran over to stop him, all that remained of his evil masterpiece were hundreds of small pieces strewn on the floor like confetti.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!!! YOU IDIOT!!! IT TOOK ME MONTHS TO PREPARE THAT!!! I'll KILL YOU!!!"
He slapped the Rabbi in the face and would have done worse but the Rabbi made for the door and ran out of the hotel.
The plans of the maskilim had been destroyed. It had taken months of political maneuvering and bribery to arrange the hearing and months more to prepare the accusations and there was no copy. Now there was no way they could present their case. In fact, the accusations were never made; just months later Karps came down with a strange throat disease and was called to the 'big hearing in the sky'.
This helps explain the three statements.
"Be Holy because I am holy" means that every Jew is a living part of the Holy Creator (not just part of the creation like the rest of mankind).
But when we say G-d is Holy it doesn't mean He is spiritual (the spiritual is just another part of creation). Rather it means that He alone creates and enlivens all being constantly!
And even more …. He creates EVERY DETAIL for a purpose; namely that His ONEness be revealed to all mankind.
That is the true identity and 'job' of the Jews that separates them from the other nations. We have been chosen to demonstrate that G-d is the King in every aspect of life… even when eating, doing business, moments of leisure, and conduct with friends and family etc. everything has meaning and everything is important and potentially holy.
This is what Karps and his ‘Maskilim’ wanted to destroy by destroying education.
That's why the next sentence says "Fear your Mother and Father".
This lesson; that Jews are essentially different and responsible for all mankind, is so unusual and personal that it can only be taught by the example of our parents. And in order to learn it we must have complete devotion to them (or teachers if our parents don't teach us.)
But in order to have the power to teach and convey this comes from Shabbat.
The Shabbat, like the Jew, seems to be a normal part of creation. But in fact it is a different type of day altogether. It is Holy.
It teaches us how time is the Creator’s. In other words; for the Jew Shabbat is a 24 hour bath and injection of Holiness. (Similar to the surrounding power of the Talit and the Tzitzis in our story.)
Just as the Rebbe fought the 'Maskilim' who tried to deny the Holiness of the Jewish people, learned from his father how to do it and got power from the Talit (which is similar to the Shabbat in many ways).
The main lesson of these three sentences is to do all we can to bring Moshiach who will teach and convince the entire world that everything is holy.
Only he, like the Rebbes in our story, will awaken true Jewish identity and bring holiness to the entire world; the day that is TOTALLY Shabbat i.e. the total redemption.
Then the entire world will see and feel the closeness, greatness and goodness of the Creator!
But it is all up to us. Just one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and bring….
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.